W.C. Fields

Pool Sharks (1915, Edwin Middleton)

According to Pool Sharks, the only thing better than getting the girl is getting a free bottle of liquor.

W.C. Fields is at a picnic and courting a young woman–apparently the only single woman there (the actor is sadly uncredited)–and he runs afoul her other suitor, played by Bud Ross.

Fields and Ross engage in food fighting and slapstick fighting before they end up competing in pool. During the pool game, Sharks becomes less a comedy and more an example of good process shots. The pool balls move spectacularly through stop motion.

Sadly, the pool game is also where Middleton and Fields decide to have Fields break the fourth wall to wink at the audience. It’s an ineffective choice and distracting.

While Fields is fine and often funny, the filmmaking overshadows him quite a bit. Even during the finale, it’s in too recent memory.

Still, Shark amuses.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Edwin Middleton; written by W.C. Fields; released by Mutual Film.

Starring W.C. Fields (The Pool Shark) and Bud Ross (His Rival).


The Golf Specialist (1930, Monte Brice)

The Golf Specialist has a very odd beginning. W.C. Fields doesn’t even show up for almost three minutes (significant in a twenty minute short); instead the film follows Shirley Grey as the house detective’s wandering wife. It’s a set-up for later, but it’s an odd way to start. The short’s only got two sets—a hotel lobby and a golf tee (with some great rear screen projection adding the background).

Eventually, Fields shows up and ends up out on the course with Grey and Al Wood as his loopy caddy. At that point, Golf becomes about Fields just trying to tee off. So it’s a comedy of errors in this sequence (which lasts until the end). The beginning only follows through to this sequence when it becomes clear the short needs to end.

It’s often very funny—and Brice directs well—but it’s quite disjointed. It could’ve been split.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Monte Brice; written by W.C. Fields; director of photography, Frank Zucker; edited by Russell G. Shields; produced by Lou Brock; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring W.C. Fields (J. Effingham Bellweather), Shirley Grey (House Detective’s Wife), Al Wood (The Caddy), John Dunsmuir (House Detective), Johnny Kane (Walter, The Desk Clerk) and Naomi Casey (Little Girl).


The Dentist (1932, Leslie Pearce)

The first third of The Dentist takes place on a golf course, without establishing W.C. Fields is a dentist. He talks about having to get back to his office, but it’s not clear. It doesn’t matter, as Fields being a belligerent golf jerk is funny.

When it does get to the dental practice, Fields’s first patient is Dorothy Granger and it quickly becomes clear the short’s pre-code. Granger’s in one constantly compromised position or another. The next patient, played by Elise Cavanna, is less blatant… but just as creatively contorted. Fields remains somewhat oblivious, at least once he starts getting annoyed, and it works rather well.

The absurdism comes in with the final patient. The patient’s got birds living in his enormous beard, which leads Fields to shoot.

The Dentist has a brisk pace. While it’s never raucous, it’s always amusing, often rather funny. Fields does a fantastic job.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Leslie Pearce; written by W.C. Fields; director of photography, John W. Boyle; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring W.C. Fields (Dentist), Marjorie Kane (Mary), Arnold Gray (Arthur the Iceman), Dorothy Granger (Miss Peppitone), Elise Cavanna (Miss Mason), Zedna Farley (Dental Assistant) and Billy Bletcher (Mr. Foliage).


The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933, Clyde Bruckman)

As it turns out–it’s hard to tell from the first ten minutes–The Fatal Glass of Beer is something of a spoof of melodramas. Those first ten minutes though are mostly just W.C. Fields being a gold prospector in a snow storm. There’s very little narrative. Fields introduces one recurring gag and it shouldn’t work, but it does; in fact, it works better on each repeat.

There’s also some odd flashback to introduce George Chandler as Fields’s son.

Eventually, Rosemary Thelby shows up as Fields’s wife and the short becomes about the melodrama spoof. Chandler is getting out of prison it turns out. What’s particularly great about the short is this narrative structuring–the ground situation isn’t established until ten minutes into a twenty minute film.

Even after the introduction of Chandler, there’s more of Fields just being funny as a prospector before the astounding conclusion.

It’s hilarious; Fields is absolutely amazing.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Bruckman; written by W.C. Fields; produced by Mack Sennett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring W.C. Fields (Mr. Snavely), Rosemary Theby (Mrs. Snavely), George Chandler (Chester Snavely) and Richard Cramer (Officer Posthlewhistle).


Million Dollar Legs (1932, Edward F. Cline)

Million Dollar Legs is, production-wise, about a year early. It came out in 1932. A year later, another comedy about a goofy European nation, also from Paramount (from the same producer), came out. Duck Soup was a bomb at the time and appreciated later. Million Dollar Legs has a great reputation–apparently did so at the time too; I really can’t understand it.

The film appears to be from the awkward silent-to-sound transition period, but it’s kind of late. There are the title cards, which are supposed to be funny and are not. There’s the lack of an original score, which really hurts it. The lead actors, Jack Oakie and Susan Fleming, are both poor. So poor, I figured they were silent stars who just couldn’t vocally emote, but the years don’t match (at least not for Fleming, but the majority of Oakie’s career was in sound pictures). W.C. Fields does a little bit better, but not much. The script’s just way too stupid.

Even discounting the script’s brevity–Oakie and Fleming fall in love at first sight just to establish them as a couple, instead of having to bother with any character development–the joke’s are just stupid. They’re also sexist and racist. There’s a lot of examples of such humor at the time, but here it’s mean-spirited, instead of just ignorant. But the jokes being unfunny due to intent isn’t even the extent (hey, I rhymed).

No, a major comedic moment relies on the humor of a kid driving a locomotive. Another one is all about arm wrestling. Or the guy who can’t stop sneezing. Or Fields referring to Oakie as “Sweetheart” for the whole thing.

Legs‘s script is a mess–for the first three quarters there’s a cross-eyed spy (get it, he’s cross-eyed, funny, right?) who’s just around. It’s a sight gag, repeated over and over. In a silent, it would probably work. Here it just gets repetitive.

But the movie’s not all bad. It’s mostly bad and then the end comes around and just gets lazy.

Cline’s a bad director, both in terms of composition and how he directs the actors. There’s an absolute lack of scope here (possibly budgetary), but the budget doesn’t account for why Cline’s scenes with actors don’t work. Something about the composition, the actors’ positions, make the whole thing fall flat.

I almost forgot to mention Lyda Roberti. I spent a lot of Million Dollar Legs wishing it was silent. At those times, I was thinking how much better the film would be. When Roberti’s on screen, however, I just figured without hearing her “act,” her performance would only be half as bad… which would still be appalling.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edward F. Cline; screenplay by Nicholas T. Brown and Henry Myers, based on a story by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; music by Rudolph G. Kopp and John Leipold; produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jack Oakie (Migg Tweeny), W.C. Fields (The President), Andy Clyde (The Major-Domo), Lyda Roberti (Mata Machree), Susan Fleming (Angela), Ben Turpin (Mysterious Man), Hugh Herbert (Secretary of the Treasury), George Barbier (Mr. Baldwin) and Dickie Moore (Willie).


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